Tonight the Islanders did not make critical early mistakes, they did not cough up an early lead, and they did not run into a Finnish giant in goal.
Instead they grabbed the early lead on a sweet Mark Streit to John Tavares connection, extended it in the second on a good P.A. Parenteau shot, and played smart and trappy through the third to preserve the lead -- and Evgeni Nabokov's 51st and perhaps least stressful shutout of his career.
Mind, there was stress -- particularly at the end of the second period when the Capitals poured on the hitting down low and hemmed the Islanders in close. And Alex Ovechkin had a few open chances in the third to make it close. But mostly the Islanders played wisely, clogging passing and shooting lanes and limiting the Caps to just 17 shots on goal.
The 3-0 win (Parenteau added his second goal late in the third) ends the Capitals home win streak at seven, ends Tomas Vokoun's home win streak at six, and represents the first home ice shutout against the Caps since February. It's also the Islanders' first shutout of the year.
Goal 1: It all started on a nice note, with the Islanders working the puck well on a first period powerplay and, just when you thought the push might be waning, Matt Moulson did well to make sure he won possession of a puck headed to the corner. Drawing two Capitals near him, he had time to look and send an almost suicidally slow high-slot pass to Mark Streit, who opened up for the intuitive one-timer ... and then promptly fed John Tavares for the back-door tip-in. 1-0 Isles.
Goal 2: Two powerplays would follow, at least one arguably generous, and the Isles moved the puck well on the second but not on the third, which began the second period. Momentum swing? Not to be. The Islanders kept up good, speedy transition work and caught the Capitals with a poor breakout pass, Frans Nielsen intercepting the no-man's land puck and feeding P.A. Parenteau, who slipped a nice shot past the blocker's leg and just inside the near post below Tomas Vokoun's glove.
Hangin' and Trappin': While holding the lead in the third, the Isles did a nice job of positioning, certainly passive on their forecheck but making the smart, safe plays as they kept the Caps to the outside in their own zone and clogged neutral zone passing lanes. Definitely rode some luck there, but it was "road behavior" when trying to seal a win in a tough rink as of late...
The Dagger: ... and it worked. Alex Ovechkin took a tough-luck penalty, pursuing the puck to the boards but behind Andrew MacDonald who had position -- and upon whose lower back Ovechkin put both hands and applied enough pressure to draw the call as A-Mac went tumbling into the boards. It's too bad but it had to be called -- needing to come from behind does not give you license to get careless with the opponent's spine. That set the stage for a powerplay to either kill some clock or kill hopes of a comeback.
Goal 3 - Parenteau's first career multi-goal game: It was the latter. Great work down low, with the higher threat of John Tavares probably stretching the Caps box. Frans Nielsen on the half boards to Matt Moulson down low, who sent the low crease pass across to a salivating P.A. Parenteau, who just needed to get his angle right and the net was his.
D-minutes: Travis Hamonic was outstanding, as usual, defensively and Andrew MacDonald was his important partner. On the third pair, Dylan Reese filled in well for Steve Staios, getting 13 minutes with Mark Eaton. So much turns on getting that early lead, playing wisely with it and getting the luck you need, but they did the job.
This is not the common view (I don't think), but this represents five consecutive cohesive efforts from the Islanders going back to the Detroit win and including the tough loss to the Flyers. Yesterday's first period against Nashville was probably the worst of this string (and in truth Nashville's own road approach with the lead was probably part of the reason the Islanders were able to pressure in the final two periods of that one).
But without the cosmetic boost of a win streak, this looks like a stretch where the Islanders enter the game with a plan and are able to stick to it. It doesn't always work against the better teams, and failing to get the first goal sure increases the challenge, but it's refreshing to see nonetheless. Even the fourth line tonight with Tim Wallace, Jay Pandolfo and Nino Niederreiter kept things simple and were able to make the smart plays for a team playing on consecutive nights. (Niederreiter in particular continues to make little baby steps; Pandolfo played to role and sacrificed torso and limb to block a shot as time wound down in the second.)
So some consistency of effort and some progress, quite possibly. But Thursday in Philadelphia is the big challenge, one that has foiled them for most of the last four years and counting.